Game Report: Hawkeyes Silence February Fade Talk with Win at Minnesota
Canceling narratives can be a chore. It looks like this Iowa team might be up to the task.
A loss Sunday afternoon at Minnesota would have fueled the belief that the Hawkeyes fade late in seasons under coach Fran McCaffery, whether fact or fiction. With a gutsy 58-55 come-from-behind victory, their critics were silenced.
Trailing 55-47 with 5 minutes, 25 seconds remaining, the visitors scored the game’s final 11 points against a Golden Gophers team in dire need of a quality win. No. 17 Iowa (18-8 overall, 9-6 Big Ten) didn’t allow a three-game Big Ten road skid deter it when its back was against the wall.
“This team has got some special qualities,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said during his postgame interview on the Hawkeye Radio Network. “I don’t know if during my career I’ve been more proud of a group. To overcome what we did (Sunday), heavy foul trouble, fatigue, down eight with five minutes to go, the place just rocking, we just stayed the course; an incredible belief that we were going to win the game.”
Player of the year candidate Luka Garza told his teammates they were going to win during a late timeout.
“There was never any panic, and that’s what’s special about this group,” McCaffery said.
A Hawkeye team hit with adversity throughout the season, particularly on the injury front, was missing third-leading scorer C.J. Fredrick (ankle) Sunday. Garza battled foul trouble before picking up his fifth personal late. Minnesota took away No. 2 scorer, Joe Wieskamp, holding him to two points.
Playing for fourth time in 11 days, Iowa didn’t flinch during crunch time, showing the mental focus that’s defined it throughout this campaign.
“They played really tough, physical defense pretty much the whole game,” Hawkeye sophomore Connor McCaffery said during a radio postgame interview. “They were really mugging us out of our stuff. That was a big thing for us is we needed to battle back with toughness.”
Despite the fouls, Garza finished with a game-high 24 points and shared team-best rebounding honors with Wieskamp, both guys grabbing eight. Ryan Kriener added 10 points in starting for Fredrick and added seven boards. Connor McCaffery handed out seven assists without a turnover for the winners and also hit some big shots down the stretch.
Iowa held big man Daniel Oturu to 15 points, six below his average, with Kriener handling a lot of that load. The Hawkeyes had been allowing 90.5 points in six Big Ten losses away from home this season, but they tightened up the defense Sunday.
“Credit to Iowa, they made some big plays at the end there,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. “Obviously, our guys did not down the stretch, just too many turnovers, too many mental lapses when we needed to step up there. Iowa is a good team, Luka Garza is terrific, one of the best players in the country, and they just found a way to make 1‐2 bigger plays than us.”
A pair of three-pointers from Minnesota put it ahead 55-47 with 5:25 on the clock. The Hawkeyes have allowed treys to burn them in recent road games, and it was fair to wonder if they would suffer a familiar fate.
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Not this time.
Two Connor McCaffery free throws followed by a Garza hoop in the lane off of a Wieskamp feed cut the deficit in half with 4:20 to go. The visitors then authored consecutive stops on defense courtesy of back to back steals from Garza and McCaffery.
After missing a three-pointer on the previous possession, Garza swished through a trey, cutting the Minnesota advantage to 55-54 with 2:21 remaining in regulation. Following another turnover by the home team, Kriener tied the game by hitting one of two free throws. Garza tapped the missed foul shot back to a teammate and Bakari Evelyn drew a foul at the end of the shot clock.
The graduate transfer sank both attempts, putting Iowa up 57-55 with 1:15 to play. The teams exchanged empty offensive possessions before Minnesota’s Marcus Carr tried a go-ahead three-pointer with :06 left. Garza picked up a questionable foul against Oturu on the rebound, the Hawkeye star’s fifth personal.
Oturu’s shot on the one-and-one try rimmed out. McCaffery grabbed the rebound and was fouled. He connected on one of two from the line before Carr’s three-quarter cart heave at the buzzer fell well short.
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“We just weren’t poised as a team,” Carr said. “I think we had five turnovers in our last six possessions, and we just made a lot of mistakes on the defensive end.”
Evelyn played 29 minutes, one short of his Iowa high, in place of ineffective starting point guard Joe Toussaint. He scored seven points and handed out three assists. Reserve forward Cordell Pemsl returned from a one-game suspension to contribute six points and three rebounds in 17 minutes for the winners.
“I thought B.K. (Evelyn) played great,” Connor McCaffery said. “I challenged him with about 15 minutes to go. From that point on, he was phenomenal. I’m really happy for him. Having him come out and play like this (Sunday) was what we needed.”
Garza scored the contest’s first eight points and Iowa’s first 10. The Hawkeyes led 21-14 with 7:27 remaining in the first half. Unfortunately for the visitors, fouls mounted.
Garza, Toussaint and Pemsl all picked up a pair of personals and sat. Garza missed the final 5:23 and went scoreless during the last 16 minutes before halftime.
Minnesota took advantage. A 17-2 run put it ahead 31-23 with 1:12 left in the opening half. A three-point play from Kriener pulled the Hawkeyes within five points of the lead at the break.
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Iowa’s 26 points were the fewest scored by it in a half this season. The visitors allowed nine offensive rebounds before the intermission, which led to the Gophers holding a 13-2 advantage in second-chance points.
Fran McCaffery pointed that out at halftime. His squad responded, holding the Gophers to three offensive boards and two second-chance points following the break. Iowa scored six points off second chances during the final 20 minutes.
“In the second half, we did a better job on the glass,” Connor McCaffery said. “In the first half, we were getting lots of stops, they were just getting offensive rebounds, getting multiple looks at it. That was a huge thing for us.”
The Hawkeyes have won seven of their last 10 games. Only the two teams ahead of them in the Big Ten standings, Maryland and Penn State, have been better, each going 8-2.
-Iowa won for the first time since ’15 at Williams Arena.
-Garza extended his 20-point streak to 11 straight Big Ten contests. The streak of 11 consecutive games is the most by a Hawkeye in 49 years and most by a Big Ten player in over 20 seasons.
-Iowa registered its sixth victory away from home this season despite scoring a season-low 58 points.
-Seven of the last eight meetings between the Hawkeyes and Gophers at Williams Arena have been decided by six points or less.
-Iowa improved to 13-0 this season when holding opponents to 69 points or less.